By Kelton Morgan
"You know better," I once wrote in a rambling drunken letter to the owner of a large grocery store chain, chastising him because his flagship store didn't carry 20 ounce Styrofoam cups.
"You grew up here and are well aware the 20 ounce Styro is the ultimate in cocktail portability - big enough to mix a decent-sized drink and yet still leave room at the top to keep it from spilling as you walk, drive, mingle through an outdoor party, etc."
Such is the importance of the 20 ounce Styrofoam cup - the famed Texas Roadie.
It all started with Ray McIntire, an engineer toiling in the labs of Dow Chemical, looking for a flexible insulator for electrical wiring. He modified a German product and invented Styrofoam, which Dow introduced to the American market in 1954.
People around the country rejoiced. Our Deep South neighbors and states to the north stayed close to the original concept of Styrofoam as an insulator - perfect for keeping coffee hot. People on the West Coast immediately chained themselves to trees and began torching corner bodegas, exclaiming that Styrofoam would bring about the extinction of several species and spell doom for the planet as a whole.
In Texas, cocktailing would never been the same.
In the early days, Texas ranchers found the cups were ideal for transporting liquids from the hand area to the mouth area. The cups kept drinks cold and ice from melting as people spent time outdoors riding horses and in trucks and jeeps. And the extra room at the top kept them from sloshing rum all over their shirts as they traveled bumpy trails and roads.
It wasn't long before someone realized Styros were perfect for the long drive back to the city. In no time at all, the 20 ounce Styro had taken Texas cities by storm, replacing nice glasses at most parties.
People even started customizing their Styros, printing company logos or party information on them. For Club CSG, my own semi-regular Thursday happy hour for downtown businesspeople, my wife gave me a case of embossed 20 ounce Styrofoam cups. They allow people to make big drinks and keep me from having to wash glasses on hungover Friday mornings. And for those who wake up not remembering where they were the night before, the logo on the cup immediately answers their question.
Once, an occasional but well-meaning guest, not realizing I had my own private stock, thought it would be a nice gesture to bring me a sleeve of Styros. They were 16 ounce. cups. They made great ashtrays.
For some reason, 20 ounce Styros have not caught on outside the borders of the Lone Star State. In 1996, I was working in Montgomery, Alabama. In a place where roadies from bars are legal, I was horrified to be handed a red plastic cup for my to-go drink. It was flimsy and sweat all over my dashboard. It wasn't until I saw Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that I realized the red plastic go-cup is as cemented in the culture of the Deep South as the Styro is in Texas.
Even in New York, where I spend a few weeks a month, you can't find 20 ounce Styrofoam cups. "Who could possibly be drinking so much coffee at one time?" asked the proprietor of my corner deli. Apparently they haven't caught on in Pakistan, either.
But in Texas, always at the cusp of the new, better, and bigger, the 20 ounce Styro is as much a part of our culture as barbed wire and big hair. It's only matter of time, I believe, before our local churches replace communion chalices with 20 ounce Styros. All hail St. Ray. •